May 4, 2011 / 12:16 AM / 8 years ago

Wyoming couple says company spied on customers

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A Wyoming couple says in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday that a computer they leased from a national rent-to-own firm allowed the company to secretly spy on them.

In the class action lawsuit brought in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania, Brian and Crystal Byrd said that Aaron’s Inc. took remote photographs of them, eavesdropped on their email and tracked their internet activities through a leased laptop equipped with hidden spying devices.

They accuse Aaron’s and DesignerWare LLC, the Pennsylvania-based manufacturer and marketer of the spying products, of breaking federal laws that protect computer privacy and prohibit electronic eavesdropping.

The Byrds say they learned in December that the Dell laptop they rented in July 2010 from an Aaron’s franchise in Wyoming was surreptitiously monitoring them.

The spying came to light after a disagreement led the manager of the franchise to confront the couple with an unauthorized photograph of Brian Byrd using the computer in his home.

When Brian Byrd demanded an explanation, the franchise manager said that “he was not supposed to disclose that Aaron’s had the photograph,” which was shot remotely by the laptop’s built-in webcam, according to the lawsuit.

The webcam was controlled by Aaron’s through a concealed electronic device the company installed and enabled on that and other leased computers “to remotely gather, intercept, transmit and store private electronic information and communications from (rent-to-own) customers, including but not limited to photographs, screen shots and keystrokes,” the lawsuit alleges.

An attorney for Aaron’s did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The Georgia firm leases everything from electronics to furniture and has more than 1,800 outlets in the United States and Canada, according to its web site.

The Byrds are seeking money for what they say was an illegal invasion of their privacy.

They also are asking for court orders banning Aaron’s from installing and using the spying products and the sale of those products by DesignerWare.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton

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